/ The New York City Traveler
New York — By Steve Mirsky on July 31, 2010 at 11:27 am
Filed under: beaches, fishing, History & Information, top-feature

Escape to Montauk Long Island

Montauk's Wide Open Beaches

Montauk, also known as “The End,” is not only a quintessential beach town on the South Fork but arguably the most storied community on Long Island. After traveling through all of the Hamptons, it just seems natural to push it all the way to the tip. You’ve come this far, so what’s a few extra miles?

As soon as you arrive in Montauk (map), it’s immediately apparent that this is a genuine beach town complete with surf shops, delis, and restaurants that you can actually sit down in your bathing suit. Another feature that sets it apart from the other chic South Fork towns is that the ocean and beaches are plainly visible from Main St. and they are much more accessible. Just park your car on a side street and walk down to the ocean. First impressions have you believing that surf and sand are the sole attractions here. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that even though this town doesn’t have a cadre of historic properties clustered around the town green, its rich heritage shines through rivaling its more outwardly antiquarian cousins to the west.

Montaukʼs legendary shark-hunting sea captain, Frank Mundus, caught a nearly two-ton shark off shore in the Atlantic during the 1950’s  inspiring the book and movie “Jaws.” Looking to land your own monster shark, or maybe something more manageable like a bluefish? Montauk boasts about 20 marinas and over 400 charter and party fishing boats.

Classic Montauk Tackle Shop

Think cattle ranching was the sole province of the Wild West? Deep Hollow Ranch (map), home to Americaʼs oldest cattle ranch, is really where it all began. Ranching was a popular way of life in Montauk for over 250 years starting in 1660. Known for its lush, green pastures, cattle drives to Montauk from nearly 70 miles away were common. There was no need for fences since the Atlantic Ocean on the south and Block Island Sound to the north provided natural boundaries. Today, the ranch exists much as it did during its heyday offering private riding lessons as well as horseback beach rides and excursions through Theodore Roosevelt County Park (map).

The Montauk Improvement Building (map), a strikingly ornate seven story brick building looming over the village center, is sure to have you wondering who built it and why. In the 1920s, Carl Fisher, a real estate mogul who drained the swamps of coastal south Florida creating Miami Beach, envisioned transforming Montauk into the “Miami of the North”. The Great Depression dashed many of his plans but this building represents the sharp contrast between Fisher’s vision of Montauk as a wealthy resort to the more affordable beach town it is today.

Way out on the tip, where the Montauk highway ends high above rocky bluffs, you canʼt miss the 80-foot tall Montauk Point Lighthouse (map).  Built in 1796, it is now the oldest operating lighthouse in New York State and the fourth oldest in the country. Climb 137 steps to the top of this historic beacon and drink in the panoramic views of the wide open Atlantic.

Montauk Improvement Building

One landmark you will most likely miss in your rush to the lighthouse is 415 acre Camp Hero State Park (map).   One of six state parks within Montaukʼs borders, Camp Hero is actually an extensive decommissioned military base that has long been a source of conspiracy. The U.S. Army established Camp Hero in 1929 and later installed 16 inch wide guns protecting New York shipping lanes. Several concrete bunker observation posts were built along the coast and base buildings were disguised to resemble a New England fishing village from above. In 1957, the Army closed Camp Hero and it was taken over by the Air Force which in 1958 built a 100-foot wide radar tower to detect incoming Soviet bombers which is surprisingly still intact. The base formally closed in 1982 and many residents as well as outsiders have claimed to witness strange occurrences on the site ranging from top secret government sponsored time travel experiments to the existence of a huge network of underground tunnels connecting the base to downtown Montauk. Come find out for yourself!

Directions from NYC: Either take the Long Island Railroad from Penn Station all the way to the last stop in Montauk or if driving take the Long Island Expressway (I-495) all way to its terminus, take Route 24 south to 27 east.

photos courtesy of Steve Mirsky

Related places:
  1. A
    Montauk, NY
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  2. B
    Deep Hollow Ranch
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  3. C
    Montauk Point State Park
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  4. D
    Montauk Downs State Park
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  5. E
    Montauk Lighthouse Museum
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  6. F
    Camp Hero State Park
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Tags: beaches, fishing, History & Information, top-feature

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